In the potato lies a story

Meat puddings should be served between the months of September and April; during the months without an “R” in them meat pies should replace them.


Meat puddings and meat pies. And then there is rappie pie. Or sometimes referred to as rapture pie. Derived from the French “patates râpées”, this Acadian pie is simply named after grated potatoes.

There are two questions that can easily be asked about a potato: what is it, and why is it? Or at least these are two questions M.F.K. Fisher thinks could easily be asked about a potato (Love in a Dish 17). And while there are dictionaries, encyclopedias, farmers and myriad blogs, books and articles that can answer the first question, it is the second which might bring pause to the way we look at this ubiquitous vegetable. But what’s worse in attempting to answer why a potato is, is the realization that we take its waltz on our kitchen tables for granted. The story of potato, the sound it waltzes to, is of brave names (Love in a Dish 17). It is a story of starvation. And of overcoming starvation.

That cooking any food other than a potato had become a lost art. Women hardly boiled anything but potatoes. The oven had become unknown after the introduction of the potato prior to the Great Starvation.

It is a story involving a famine. The potato’s story involves being driven out of your home. And land. It’s a story on bravery.

Its story permeates Nova Scotia, along the rocky Clare shore between Yarmouth and Digby. The potato was there when the French-speaking Acadians returned to Canada after being forced off of it in the first place; it was there in rappie pie. And while the exact origin of rappie pie is unclear, it is in the potato that we find why Acadians might have devised the recipe for rappie pie. It is the story of the potato and our relationship with each other through it. It is the brave story of the potato which gives rappie pie meaning.

To make rappie pie, finely grated potatoes are squeezed dry in a cheesecloth. By hand.

The result is mixed with chicken broth and layered onto a dish with pieces of the same chicken. The pie is then placed in the oven and slowly baked for several hours – until it is golden brown and crusty on the outside, and oddly gooey on the inside. Thick. Gray. And gelatin-like on the inside.

Recipe adopted from Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens


12 pounds of potato
2 chickens, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds each
2 to 3 large onions
Salt and pepper to taste
Poultry seasoning, or any other spice you desire for your chicken


Cook your chicken in a large pot with onions. It’s important to cook the chicken before you start working with the potatoes. The juice of the meat will be hot and ready for use when the potatoes have been ridden of their starch.

And so the chicken slowly cooks in water and mingled with onions. In the meantime, peel potatoes and soak them in cold water so they stay white. Squeezing the juice out of the potatoes by hand is a process spanning several hours and so it’s important to keep the remaining potatoes fresh while we work our way through them.

Cookbooks. They reflect shifts in our edibility boundaries. They curate culinary processes and the logic of meals. The existence of cookbooks presupposes not only some degree of literacy, but often an effort to standardize the regime of the kitchen — to publicize particular traditions guiding the journey of food from market place to kitchen to table (Food and Culture 18). Language and literacy, cities and ethnicity, women and domesticity, all are examples of issues that lie behind a cookbook — behind its measurements and its methods.

While travelling through Halifax I had the opportunity to cook rappie pie with an Acadian grandmother. She told me she would spend her weekend afternoons squeezing the juice out of potatoes — by hand.

She was able to find a grater in her basement which she mentioned was used in later years to grate the potatoes.

After the grating process, the potato would go through the following device where the starch would be stripped out of it.

She didn’t use any tools though. She spent her afternoons squeezing the starch out by hand. She did this alongside her sister. And mother. And grandmother.

Today you can go to a grocery store in Atlantic Canada and buy pre-starched potato in a bag. Or use the spin cycle on your washing machine to extract the liquid. The making of rappie pie is already becoming less social. The story of the potato is already becoming a tragedy — out of a plastic bag.

When potatoes are all squeezed, loosen them in a large pan, and add the broth from the pot the chicken was cooked in, gradually. The broth’s warmth will cook the squeezed potato paste.

Adding chicken broth to the potato is no easy task. It has to be just the right amount. There is no formula. There is no easy way of knowing what that right amount is except for making rappie pie — over and over. Year after year. The only way to know how much broth to add is to learn the language of your food.

If not enough broth is added, you’ll be left with a rock solid pie — hard to eat and hard to digest. If too much broth is added, the pie will be too soft, not being able to stand on its own.

Adding the right amount of broth will require experience. You’ll have to be able to feel the texture of the potato. Read how it moves as you stir your spoon, mixing it. It is in this processes that we witness the active participation of the potato in the cooking of rappie pie. A relationship is formed between the cook and the ingredient. This is a relationship that can only be formed outside of any cookbook. It can only be formed if we accept the potatoes active participation in the process and if we listen to it.

We add the chicken broth in. Little by little. Stirring it into our potato paste, and listening to it.

When enough broth has been added, we pour the potato mixture into a pan and cover with a layer of our chicken, picked into small pieces.

Once covered with a layer of chicken, we pour the rest of the potato on top.

The pie is placed in the oven, preheated to 400 F, and left there to its own devices for almost three hours. You’ll know your pie is ready when the top of the pie is golden and crusty.

Origins of rappie pie are unclear. But we can ask: “why is the potato squeezed — by hand?”

Almost all people, whether they are grandmothers or not, have practiced certain forms of economy in their day. When resources are scarce, at times of hardship, things like rice or potatoes or spaghetti or any of the starches are cooked enough for two meals instead of one (The Art of Eating 202). Enough is cooked to feed many people at once. And food is cooked in such a way so that the least amount of resources get used in its preparation.

The potatoes of rappie pie are not baked. They are not boiled. No heat is used in preparing them. They are squeezed by hand and later mixed with the chicken broth  which includes chicken fat. No butter or additional oil is used in the making of this dish.

Once out of the oven, this pie can easily be cut into pieces and wrapped up to accompany us to work. It doesn’t need to be re-heated.

Once eaten is keeps us full for a long time.

He was fortunate that his chosen way to keep alive agreed with his guts, if not completely with his gourmet instincts. The woman who fed her family cooked starch for five months was perhaps equally lucky; at least she kept them alive, which is supposed to mean heaven for true mothers.

And just like what M.F.K. Fisher says here about our cooking choices at times requiring thirftiness, we look to the story of the potato.

The origins of rappie pie are unclear, but how the potato is used in this recipe might provide some insight into the conditions during which this recipe was constructed. How the potato is used brings to light the relationship we form with the food we cook.

The origins of rappie pie are unclear and cookbooks only provide instruction on cooking it, but asking “why is a potato?” gives us a glimpse into the story of rappie pie.

The grandmother we cooked with served her rappie pie with mustard pickle. But that’s a story for another post.


Counihan, Carole, and Esterik Penny Van. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York and London: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Fisher, M. F. K., and Anne Zimmerman. Love in a Dish: And Other Culinary Delights. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2011. Print.

Fisher, M. F.K., and James A. Beard. The Art of Eating. New Jersey: Wiley, 2004. Print.

The Dough and The Scone

Cindy — the child Cindy — not the one who is the owner of Grandma’s Afternoon Tea Room in Prince Edward Island, remembers sitting in her grandmother’s living room. Cindy sits with her little tea cup, quietly, and watches her grandmother and friends work on quilts.

Cindy sits quietly and patiently. She waits for what she knows comes next.

After the quilt’s been worked on. After the guests leave. She knows what comes next and she eagerly waits with her tea cup close by.

After everyone leaves, Cindy’s grandmother walks over and has afternoon tea with her. They sip tea out of her little tea cups. They eat sandwiches. And they laugh.

Today we see Cindy sharing her afternoon tea memories with her community. She has created a lovely tea room filled with tea cups of different shapes, sizes, and patterns. Each tea cup used to belong to a member of her family, and to remember them she has labelled the bottom of each cup with a name.

She also has adorned her tea room with hats.

Cindy serves us afternoon tea and tells us about her scones. Her fluffly, light, creamy scones. Cindy says she would bake some scones with us but that the reason her scones are the way they are is because of the relationship she has with her dough. She knows the language of her dough – how it feels under her fingers as she works it. How it forms. How it rises. How it bakes. She listens to her dough and she moves with her dough.

Cindy says she only attempted baking scones four times before she found the recipe that became her scone recipe. And that’s because she listens so closely to her dough, like one would to the sound of the ocean next to their ear in a seashell.

Cindy found a love of baking by having afternoon tea with her grandmother and since then she has worked on inspiring others to listen to their dough, to work their dough, or at the very least have a scone and enjoy it for all its story.

Meeting Cindy has made us look forward to what the grandmothers we’ll be cooking with will be inspiring in us for the future. And if it’s to listen to our dough more closely, well, we would love that.

On the Subject of Dulse

Oh the smell of ocean.

As soon as we arrived in New Brunswick that’s what we wanted to do most: smell the water. Then came dulse: a sea vegetable, grown at low tide, which takes root on rocks.

Dulse is harvested by hand and is sun-dried on a drying ground made especially for drying dulse. It takes about six hours to dry, and although it’s grown in several areas, it’s Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick which has the most delicious and sought after dulse.

We knew we had to try some. And so we went to the farmer’s market in Saint John.

We are told sun-dried dulse is eaten as is or is ground to flakes or a powder. It can be pan fried into tasty chips (well, there was a debate in the market as to its tastiness). Dulse definitely has an ocean scent and taste.

For those who yearn for the sea, dulse can also be eaten directly off the rocks before sun-drying.

So we walk by the Bay of Fundy. We take in the smell of the water. And just so we can have this moment with us, this smell, we buy some dulse and have it in our trunk as we continue to drive through Atlantic Canada.

Here is a recipe for a Fundy Seafood Salad that we will try making once we get home.

Fundy Seafood Salad
Recipe from Roland’s Dulse 


3 tbsps butter
2 tbsps lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 tsp dulse flakes
1 cup bread croutons


In a small frypan heat butter until foamy. Add lemon juice and finely chopped garlic. Stir.

Stir in the dulse flakes. And the bread croutons. Cook until golden brown and butter is absorbed.

In a large bread bowl, break into small pieces 1 large head of lettuce. Cover with 130 grams of cooked shrimp, drained. Add 284 ml packed, frozen lobster. Add 75 grams of crabmeat.

Sprinkle on top of this sea assembly some crumbled blue cheese and croutons. Cover and chill.

Just before serving, toss with preferred dressing.

We drive with the smell of ocean. And we look forward to having a piece of Bay of Fundy when we get home.

Afternoon Tea in New Brunswick

Nan, grandmother Joan, has lived in Saint John all her life. She knows her trees and the deer that walk up to her backyard. She has been living in this familiar neighbourhood since childhood and that’s where she met her husband, a neighbour. And that’s how she learned how to bake mocha cakes, through her mother-in-law. And that’s what we are making with her. Mocha cakes.

Nan is known for her mocha cakes. That’s what she brings to meet friends. And what she bakes when grandkids come to visit. Mocha cakes are what she makes every Christmas.

She has been making these nutty, sweet, mini-cakes since 1951.

Nan’s baking isn’t exclusive to these though. In between crushing peanuts and cutting pound cakes into squares, you will find her working her dough for cookies. She likes baking. She likes how it makes her home warm. Not that she needs help for that. Nan, not having ever met us, opened her door to us, and hugged us tight. She shared her story with us. She showed us family pictures.

She makes mocha cakes with us.

Nan’s No Bake Mocha Cake Recipe

Nan couldn’t give us exact measurements of all the ingredients she uses because it changes all the time. And I’m sure a quick search on mocha cakes would bring myriad websites and recipes on this cake. What is most important is the way that Nan makes her mocha cakes.

She starts by grinding peanuts. Or rather, she starts by crushing her peanuts. Nan stresses that although we can purchase already crushed peanuts, she finds crushing them right before use make this cake most tasteful. She mixes peanuts with their skin on and peanuts without the skin together into her hand grinder and gets crushing.

We turn the handle. She tells us about growing up in Saint John.

We turn the handle and the warm scent of peanuts fill the kitchen.

When we have roughly about 4 cups of crushed peanuts we move to the next step: cutting the pound cake into pieces.

Of course, you can make your own pound cake, but Nan has found an already made one that she likes, and so we get to cutting that into 2-inch by 1-inch rectangles.

We cut. She tells us about lobster rolls. They are her favourite meal.

While we are cutting, Nan puts a pan on the stove and turns the kettle on. She says that filling the pan with warm water is an essential part of making the icing for these cakes. It keeps the icing at a runny consistency.

She pours the water into the pan gently. Then we float a pyrex bowl in the water, and the icing sugar goes into the bowl followed by butter. We mix. We turn our spatula and we mix.

Nan says the icing has to be thin. And so if needed we would add some warm water into the mixture. And our mixture needed some water. She pours some water in there and all of a sudden sugar and butter play nice. They form as we like it. As Nan likes it.

Next step: drop the cut up pieces of pound cake into the icing. Once they are coated, roll them into a bowl of the crushed peanuts.

The pound cake pieces are now covered with peanuts.

We set them on the table to cool a bit. Then into the fridge they go.

This is Nan’s it’s-not-home-until-these-are-mingling-in-the-fridge recipe because it requires no oven time. She can bring her ingredients to the cottage and make these at any time and at any place that her family wishes for them.

Nan artfully and seamlessly prepares afternoon tea for us. We drink tea and we laugh and we eat mocha cakes. Sandy the cat joins us in the living room. He muses over the cakes. He joins our tea party.

Nan sends us off with a bag full of mocha cakes and cookies. Cookies that we have been eating since we left Saint John. With each cookie with think of Nan. And we are grateful to have met her. To have been in her kitchen. And to have heard her story.

With each cookie, we are grateful to have met a wonderful Saint John grandmother. And we say thanks to Nan.


On the Road: Happiness Is in a Pie!

It all started when I received a book in the mail titled Favourite Recipes from Old New Brunswick Kitchens. With chapters on Invalid Cookery and Miscellany, and whimsical recipes like this bird’s nest toast, I couldn’t put the book down, but to turn it page to page.

Soon I had books with recipes from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. And I realized that each province has a unique cuisine. And that I would love to visit each region of Canada and explore the foods and recipes of my country.

This year, my friend Maggie and I are set to travel through Atlantic Canada and cook our way through each region. We are cooking with grandmothers. And grandfathers. And great aunts. We are baking pies and we are making jam.

On the drive to Saint John, New Brunswick we came across a pie stand on Puzzle Mountain, Maine. With a Never-Fail Pie Crust recipe in Favourite Recipes from Old New Brunswick Kitchens, and with my personal relationship with pie, we had to stop at this bakery and farm stand.

In addition to pies, we spotted maple cookies and whoopie pies. There was no one manning the stand. Not a person in sight. Each pie was carefully wrapped, labeled with a price, and left there to entice the car, the driver, and all that surrounds this stand. Clearly we stopped.

We stopped. And we smiled. A sign tells us to pay for our goods by leaving money in a box attached to a tree.

The pies wait there to be picked. And there is trust that each pie will be paid for before it’s picked. This bakery runs completely on the honour system.

We walk to a house close to the stand. And spot warm pies just out of the oven. The owner walks in and tells us that he also sells james, pickles and other baked goods made with local fruits. But his bestsellers are wild Maine blueberry pies and james. The strawberry rhubarb does make a statement once in awhile with the rhubarb coming from a family farm which uses no chemicals.

He says this family business started with beautiful pottery dishes. To sell these pie dishes, his mom started baking pies. And soon, there were pies everywhere. And soon he was rolling dough. Soon there were strawberries marching on the counter. Soon, there were ovens lining the walls of the house.

Soon, he had a pie stand, and a sign that said, pick one and pay here.

And in the middle of the pies cooling on the counter, we rolled our sleeves, and he picked a rolling pin. We started to bake a pie. A strawberry rhubarb pie! Maggie and I had just set to driving, to cooking our way through Canada, and we find ourselves baking a strawberry rhubarb pie.

He tells us that every morning, early in the morning, he makes his dough and leaves it chilling in the fridge. Throughout the day, he will take pieces of it out as he bakes pies.

The secret to his Never-Fail pie crust is keeping each ingredient chilled. He adds shortening to his flour which tells us is pastery flour. In addition to some cold water, he adds baker’s cream — similar to cream of tartar — to his mixture to make a dough that’s not chewy. A dough that’s flakey and puffy.

The strawberries are surprised to be inside the dish.

The rhubarb pile on. Sugar makes everyone relax.

He cuts out a dragonfly, closes the pie, and gently places the dragonfly on top. Pie is ready for the oven.

Sadly, we need to continue our drive if we are ever to arrive in New Brunswick. We can’t wait for the pie to come out of the oven. But with cookies and a whoopie pie in the car, we happily listen to our Maine soundtrack, taking in the smell of baked goods and realize: on the roadside, happiness is in a pie!

You can spot the Puzzle Mountain Bakery at:

806 Bear River Road
Newry, ME 04261

Next stop: Saint John, New Brunswick.